Thursday, July 29, 2010

Finding The Path; or, Which Way From Here?

The Internet is a big and wonderful place, full of websites that are helpful, useful, or just plain strange. It's like a library that's hyped up on caffeine, speed, hallucinogens, and maybe a rum-and-coke, all at once. Anything you want to know how to do, just ask the Internet. Someone, somewhere, will have advice for you. Probably several someones.

So it's not surprising that when you're an aspiring author, the Internet has plenty of advice to offer. "Success will be yours," says site after site, "if you only do this one very important thing."

The problem is, no one can agree on what that one thing is. Some say, "Find your voice." Others say, "Write every day." Still others say things like, "Write only what you're passionate about," "Eschew adverbs and dialogue tags," and "There is no good writing; there is only bad writing and good rewriting."

Can all of these helpful, well-meaning, earnest advice givers be right? Well, yes, they can -- just not all of them, for everyone. Each one has found his or her golden rule, the one thing that works best for them. The problem is that what works fabulously well for one person can result in utter failure for another.

This is because, as I am finding, no two writers are alike. They don't work alike, they don't think alike, and they sure as heck don't write the same way. So one writer might swear by outlines, while another is stifled by them. One might write a nearly-perfect first draft, while another depends more on mad editing skills to turn a sloppy first draft into something magical.

So what I -- and every writer on the face of the Earth -- have to do is to winnow through the piles and heaps of writing advice out there on the Internet in an attempt to find the path that works for me. When I've done that, I can share what I've learned with others, all the while fully aware that my Holy Grail is another person's Sinkhole of Despair.

One of the things I'm learning about myself is that it is possible for me to read and try to follow too much advice all at once. The symptoms of that are pretty clear: Inner Editor picks the lock of that cage I keep her in and hovers over my keyboard, questioning every word choice, every punctuation mark. "Because if you write the first draft carefully enough," she murmurs seductively, "you don't have to go back and do as much editing. Look at all the time that will save!"

And yes, it's true. If it really did work that way, I could save a lot of time. But what is more likely to happen -- and is, in fact, what has happened with my current WIP -- is that the story stalls out, too self-conscious to continue. Inner Editor is trying to make me follow all of the advice at once. And it's just not working.

So maybe it's time to step back from all of those enticing Twitter feeds, the ones with siren-like links to article after article about how to better one's writing skills. Maybe it's time to lock the Inner Editor back into her clean, comfortable cage for the time being and get some writing done.

Maybe I need to focus on what works for me, for now.

Anyone else suffering from advice overload? Anyone else have an Inner Editor who's been getting a little too sassy lately?


Samantha said...

It becomes essential to sift through that information overload to find those tricks or tips that you know might be beneficial to your own writing.

Like, the author who writes a 40 page detailed outline before they even start their book. There's no way that would work for me. But for her, that's her process.